Riding Solo A Legend – A Tribute To Gaurav Jani

It’s funny what friends can tell you. In 2009, Birendra Nahata told me about Gaurav Jani who travelled solo on his motorbike who he called “Loner” all the way from New Delhi to the Changthan valley in Ladakh. Biren handed me a DVD of the film aptly titled “Riding Solo to Top Of The World” and told me to watch it as soon as I could. Which I Did. 11 years later this morning, I chanced upon the poster of Gaurav’s film again on Radhesh Kaushik’s instagram story. Fond memories erupted and I started watching the film again on Youtube, when as a matter of habit, I scrolled down to the comments section. I was numbed when I read that Gaurav passed away in May this year.

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We look for role models in life and tend to find them in our parents, grandparents, writers, artists, actors, athletes and in a rare case in politicians as well. But almost all the time, there is this one person who fills a void in the list – the void that must define the meaning of passion. This is where Gaurav Jani fits the bill for me. I never met him, infact I dont know anything about him and yet his entire act – right from mounting his luggage on to the bike in the first frame to the last frame where he rides away from our gaze is a lesson in how experiences can be life altering, not only for the one who endures it, but even for those who get to sense them irrespective of the source. For the faithfuls of the film like me, the visuals stay in memory not only in their primordial form, but also as a moment of motivation, to think that there was another person who faced an event in life and overcame it with their inherent qualities and acquired capabilities. There is resultant exhilaration, that pushes the self to realise a passion so preciously stoked in the deepest corners of our being.

For me Riding Solo is the epitome of travel documentaries. It transcends the confines of being called a documentary film. And deep down somewhere I want it to be like that. There should never be another like this one. The first two minutes of the movie hooked me to the entire running duration of almost 96 minutes. And over the years it has hooked many who’ve got the chance to see this classic. The film is a philosophy, an act of discovery of the self as Gaurav travels to the deepest corners of the Changthan valley in Ladakh. Places like Hemis and PangGongSo which are destinations for travellers like me, for him, are just milestones en route his great one man ride. 

I share with you this original soundtrack which was the mark of Riding Solo. The credits o this are entire to Mr. Ved Nair. It has played itself in my head numerous times as and when I travelled and was my phone ring tone for the longest time. I hope Gaurav whistled it as he made his final journey. 

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I find it important to mention the fact that the film won the award for The Best Non Feature Film at the 53rd National Film Awards.   

Ruskin

May 19th marks the 86th birthday of Ruskin Bond. He is often described as India’s most loved author even as he has been writing fiction and non fiction for over 60 years. Ruskin Bond’s repertoire as a writer glorifies the art of writing – by his own admission in a televised interview he described himself as a writer inspired by his own life. Bond has written short stories, novels, novellas, essays, travelogues etc that have been published and republished and the reader has so often re read these over and over.

A few years back, Ruskin Bond published his autobiography called Lone Fox Dancing. As usual for all Ruskin fans, the book is a delight and was lapped up to know more about this ever so loveable man nestled in the hills of Mussoorie. I picked the book as a fan, and as i progressed reading about Ruskin and his life, I began to marvel at the man himself.

Today on his birthday, I am thinking about Ruskin as a child. At the age of 8, his parents separated and Ruskin started to live with his father in Delhi. Ruskin described this as a time of solitude – time when he was left to his own devices except weekends when his father would spend time with him. Reading about his time with his father, I thought of my time with my father; though the relationship that we respectively had with our fathers was perhaps very different. I assume he had a more informal relationship with his. At the age of 11, when Ruskin was in boarding school his father passed away. He was told by his principal. And ever since he built his life on his own. He moved to other boarding schools and took to reading & then writing his first short story at 16. A couple of years later his first book, A Room On The Roof was published and awarded the John Rhys Award for Writers under 30.

I assume that there isn’t a day when Ruskin doesn’t think of his father. There is not a day when I don’t think of mine. How can one not. For fathers often are that one mark of a person that a child wants to be. It’s a brooding aspiration – to be the silent wall, who stands behind like a rock & never sheds a tear. The father is the vision, he is supposed to set sights firmly on the future and guide the child with firm hands on their shoulders. Ruskin’s father did that perhaps, when he told Ruskin to read as many books as he could, took him to bazaars and cinemas. I imagine that he used to tell Ruskin that he would be alone for the weekdays when his father went to the office and that Ruskin should take care of himself as he was a big boy! And Ruskin would have believed him. And once back home, he would have asked Ruskin how his day went and what did he read that day. Later at dinner, he perhaps told Ruskin how his own day went. And at bed time, he would tuck Ruskin in and tell another quick one story from the day, till little Ruskin went off to sleep. Aubrey would then, stand out in the verandah of the big Atul Grove bungalow and perhaps smoke a pipe; or a cigar thinking about his day in actuality, about Edith and his time with her, about the Royal AirForce and WW2 before his thoughts came to rest to little Ruskin sleeping peacefully tucked in. I am sure in his last moments, Aubrey thought of Ruskin and how his life would be once he was gone. Perhaps he took confidence that the boy would do well, for he was shaping into a fine independent boy. A short prayer, if not to the Gods, then to the human spirit must have passed his lips.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake has an episode where Ashoke walks a child Gogol to the end of the wharf. Once they reach the point from where they cannot go further, Ashoke realises that he has forgotten his camera in the car and now they cannot take a photograph. He tells Gogol that now this moment in life would have to remembered as a place from where there was no where else left to go.

Ruskin must have had his moment with his father. And I guess so do all of us.

Happy Birthday Ruskin Bond. Wish you live long.

Ghalib

In recent times, there has been none who has touched me like Ghalib. The credit of deepening a cordial relationship to intimacy goes to someone who I admire much. What started as a song that was shared in the most unusual of all platforms, is now an every night conversation with this great poet brought to life by four other masters of their craft – Gulzar, the Late Jagjit Singh (peace be upon his soul), Naseeruddin Shah & finally Tanvi Azmi who were part of its televised version. You can find it on Youtube.

Ghalib lived a life long enough to see some major social and political turns in his lifetime. The mutiny of 1857; the subsequent strengthening of the British empire,, the thinning of bonds between Hindus & Muslims and the last days of the Mughal empire. Personally his life can be described as tragic, losing all his children before they turned 15 months, living a life in penury, struggles of supporting an extended family. But the brilliance never dimmed.

The more I read, see and listen to Ghalib, I draw parallels between him and the Divine Madman Of Bhutan – Drukpa Kunley. Both these fine persons, went about spreading their verse in the most unorthodox manners. However this had no impact on their fame; in fact they only got popular as time went by. There is another important coincidence –  between Ghalib and VanGogh. Both wrote letters; VanGogh to his brother Leo and Ghalib to himself. Both had so much to say. Ghalib, perhaps was lonelier, maybe he felt short of people who could understand his take.  Maybe they did’t take kindly to his excesses. However the letters from these two are now revered texts.

बलसर आ गिरो अबशारग़ालिब में,

बहुत रहे सूखे सूखे अब तक